People come from as far as Peoria, Lake Geneva, the Quad Cities and Northwest Indiana to find scrapbooking treasure at Karen Bushy's Memories & Beyond in Downers Grove. But after five years under her ownership, one of the last of its kind will close May 31.
While many Chicago-area scrapbooking stores have closed in the last few years, Bushy says her decision was not part of that trend.
"I really don't think it is," she said.
Based on what she's heard from customers in the last year, she doesn't think the heyday of scrapbooking is over, even if her store is closing and there has been some diminution.
Andrej Suskavcevic, president of the Craft & Hobby Association, an international nonprofit trade association, says scrapbooking is a creative expression that is definitely evolving.
"I don't think it's necessarily declining," he said.
But the former three-term president of Oak Brook says closing her store isn't about industry changes or competition from big box stores like Michael's -- anchored at one end of the same strip mall on Lemont Road and 75th Street. Those stores have less scrapbooking, card making and related inventory than Bushy's 6,000 square feet of paper, embellishments, ribbon, rubber stamps and other crafting supplies, and they sell different items with very little overlap, she says.
She cites economic factors, such as higher rent, as the real reason.
"But the bigger, the unknown, and the thing that really puts a crimp in it is this coming minimum wage increase," Bushy said. If she is required to give an increase to some of her minimum wage employees, everybody else has to get a proportionate increase, she says. That will lead to the gross payroll going up, as will workman's comp and the employer tax will go up, too, she says.
"And a small business just can't absorb it," she says. "So that combination, I looked at it and said, 'forget it.' I just can't make it make sense. And it breaks my heart because right now our trading area is the whole northern third of Illinois."
She also says the cost of health care, how much people are working and less expendable income have hurt the hobby.
"All our suppliers are already starting to raise prices because they're going to get caught in the same thing," she says. "At some point my customers look at all this (the product prices) and say, 'I don't think so.'"
But customers like Crystal Olson, a 30-year-old manager of a recording studio and a Chicago resident, say they won't know where else to go. She travels an hour to come to Memories & Beyond once or twice a month.
"A couple other scrapbook stores closed last year and this was my last place," she says.
A scrapbooker and a card maker, Olson tried digital scrapbooking, but didn't like it as much. Her friends are doing it, and it's a lot faster than traditional scrapbooking, but "it's a lot less hands on," she said. "It's just clicking. It's still creative but it's clicking, it's not working with your hands."
Suskavcevic says even some millennials are sticking with crafts like scrapbooking and knitting for that very reason. Scrapbooking and card making span a wide demographic, he says.
"You're seeing everybody do it for a variety of reasons," Suskavcevic said.
Bushy's customers range from 12-year-olds "all the way to gals that make me look like a teenager," the 74-year-old owner said.
Now that she's about to close shop, Bushy plans to spend more time scrapbooking again.
"The hobby itself is wonderful, and I just love it, and I'll certainly continue with it," she says. "... I have a beautiful craft room at home -- yeah, if I live to be 300, I won't use all the stuff I have."
But the best part of owning this business has been the people, Bushy is quick to say. "It's really been a joy."